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Test us credibility { September 11 2002 }

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Khalid: A test for US credibility
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - The circumstances surrounding the arrest in Pakistan and handing over to US authorities of a man said to be Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, a reportedly leading member of al-Qaeda, raise a number of important issues, not the least of which is the credibility of the US in its "war against terror".

Khalid himself is shrouded in mystery. He was reported to have been killed in Karachi in a bloody shootout with Pakistani security forces on September 11, 2002 (See A chilling inheritance of terror) and there is dispute over whether or not he was one of the key planners of the September 11 attacks on the US a year earlier.

There is even doubt over Khalid's nationality. Some say he is Pakistani, others that he is a Kuwaiti. Certainly, though, he does appear to be of Pakistani origin, probably Baloch, and raised in Kuwait. He is thought to have been in Pakistan for about two-and-a-half years, well before September 11, 2001.

Pakistani and US intelligence officials were alerted to his presence in the country when he gave an interview to the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television station shortly before the first anniversary of September 11. On the strength of intercepted communications through ordinary mobile phones as well as satellite telephones, the net closed on Khalid.

Dead or alive?
According to an official of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Khalid was followed from somewhere in the eastern district of Karachi to the Defense Housing Authority (Phase II, commercial area), situated in the southern part of the city near Clifton beach. There he entered a two-storey building, which was then surrounded by ISI and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials. They were joined by hundreds of police vehicles and Pakistan Rangers. The total number of law enforcement agents at that time was 1,000 or more.

The following is a reconstruction of events that were widely reported in the Pakistani print and electronic media, and information gathered from intelligence sources.

The building stands alone, with no access to the ones next door. Initially, a few plainclothed officials (including a major of the ISI and a civilian inspector) entered the building and urged the people inside to evacuate. A grenade was then thrown, which injured the major and the inspector, forcing them to retreat.

Fresh troops then entered the building, and a fierce gun battle broke out. At this point, according to an eyewitness, a car carrying a few "white people" was seen speeding away from the scene. Tear gas was then fired into the building, and the shooting subsided.

Pakistan Rangers along with many plainclothed officials and police surged into the building and fired at two men in one of the flats, who were standing with their hands up. One of these turned out to be Ramzi Binalshibh, who had wanted to join the 19 hijackers for the attacks on the US but who had been unable to get a US visa. He was taken into custody.

Nine other suspected terrorists were captured, and two were killed. A woman FBI official examined the bodies, and, as reported by an ISI official, suddenly exclaimed, "You have killed Khalid Shaikh Mohammad." The woman then instructed that a finger be cut off the body, which she took away, presumably for a DNA test.

Khalid's wife and child were taken away to an ISI safe house in the vicinity where they were interrogated by the FBI, and it is said that the woman identified one of the bodies as Khalid. Several weeks after this incident, the then interior minister, Moinuddin Haider, stated in the country's largest Urdu-language newspaper that Khalid's widow had been handed over to Egyptian authorities.

Apparently, neither of the bodies was buried, a departure from usual custom, and they were kept in a private mortuary operated by the Edhi Home, a charity organization. After several weeks, some women, said to be widows and mothers of those killed in Kashmir and Afghanistan, launched a protest in front of the mortuary for the bodies to be handed over.

Again, according to Pakistan print media reports, these protest turned into big demonstrations which forced the authorities to issue a statement that the bodies had been buried in a local, unidentified, graveyard.

ISI officials close to the case at this time were convinced, as were the FBI, that Khalid had been killed. But they chose not to disclose the death as they wanted other al-Qaeda members to attempt to remain in contact with him through the recovered satellite telephones, mobile phones and laptop computers.

Sources who had been involved in the shootout and subsequent events were taken off all al-Qaeda operations, and then the FBI stopped using the ISI offices in Karachi and moved into a separate building where one ISI colonel and a major were deployed for coordination purposes only.

After this, reports began to emerge that the FBI agents were claiming that they had intercepted calls from Khalid himself, originating in Karachi, and they were insisting that he was alive.

On the basis of these intercepted calls, a raid was conducted in the outskirts of Karachi on the suburb of Gulshan-I-Maymar, a thinly populated region, especially Block W, where, after some heavy gunfire, several Arabs were arrested.

The next day, some Pakistani authorities claimed in newspapers that one of the people who had escaped, although injured, was Khalid. People in the neighborhood who witnessed the siege, though, say that with the building surrounded and more than 600 police and Rangers in attendance, it would have been very difficult for anyone to escape. After this, Khalid's name seldom made the news as the US-Iraq issue grabbed the headlines.

Back in the news
Then it was announced that on March 1 that Khalid had been captured during a raid on an apartment in Rawalpindi, the sister city of the capital, Islamabad.

First reports said that he had been handed over to the US, who took him to their military base at Diego Garcia. This was denied, and there were reports that the US had been given someone other than Khalid. Later, he was said to be in US custody at Bagram airport in Afghanistan.

In Pakistan there have been reports described as coming from Taliban sources - members of the former government in Afghanistan who are now hiding in Pakistan, who deny that Khalid has been captured. One says, "We know exactly where the guy they're claiming to have captured is."

According to the local media, Khalid was seized while in the house of one Ahmed Abdul Qudoos, who, it turns out, is a mentally feeble person - he is also being held in custody as an al-Qaeda member - and as such receives a regular stipend from a United Nations organization.

"It was published in the national press on the very first day after this raid that the police conducted two raids in Rawalpindi and arrested Arabs. I believe that they arrested these people from some other location and showed them arrested at the residence of Ahmed Abdul Qudoos, who is a relative of a leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami's women's wing," the chief of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Karachi, Dr Merajul Huda, told Asia Times Online.

The Jamaat-i-Islami is Pakistan's most prominent Islamic party and a part of an ultraconservative coalition that gained an unprecedented number of seats in last October's elections, largely on the strength of a virulently anti-American platform.

On Tuesday, Pakistani authorities officially admitted the handover of Khalid. "We do not know what he has done, but since we are convinced that he is KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammad] we have handed him over to a country [US] where he is wanted," said Pakistan's Information Minister, Shiekh Rasheed Ahmed.

On the first anniversary of September 11, the Bush administration was under fire over poor results in its "war on terror", with no significant arrests having taken place. Precisely on September 11, 2002, the drama involving Khalid and Ramzi Binalshibh began unfolded in Karachi.

Now, at a time when the US is likely to have to delay its war on Iraq a little longer due to Turkey's about-turn on US troops in its country and the upcoming UN vote, another coincidence occurs involving Khalid.

Clearly, no one has the final word on whether Khalid is dead, was captured earlier, or is still free.

What can be expected though, are reports establishing some degree of Iraqi involvement with al-Qaeda operations, and stepped up operations across the world against that network. For if this does not happen, the Khalid arrest could be seen as just one more hoax in the US-led "war on terror".

(2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)

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